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Evidence of meeting #24 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was ukrainian.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Oleh Rybachuk  Chairman, United Actions Center
Halyna Coynash  Representative, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
Ihor Kozak  Chairman, External Affairs Committee, League of Ukrainian Canadians National Executive
Alyona Hetmanchuk  Director, Institute of World Policy

5 p.m.

Director, Institute of World Policy

5 p.m.

Conservative

Ted Opitz Conservative Etobicoke Centre, ON

Who is the typical member of Parliament in Ukraine?

5 p.m.

Director, Institute of World Policy

Alyona Hetmanchuk

It's a really interesting question, because under this party list system, we have had a lot of very interesting people, very strange people, as members of Parliament. According to the last opinion poll, 40% of today's MPs are going to participate in the upcoming elections.

That is a good statistic, because not everybody feels confident to participate. It's not a secret that we used to have people who used to work either as drivers or assistants, or in security—bodyguards, actually—in different party lists. It was not only in the Party of Regions lists but also in opposition lists. That is the reason that so many turncoats—we call them tushkey—appeared in the last years.

Also, all businessmen understand that without political immunity their personal security could be under threat. Of course, many businessmen are also interested in getting into Parliament.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

That's all the time we have now, Mr. Opitz.

We're going to now move over to Madame Latendresse for five minutes.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Alexandrine Latendresse NDP Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I have a question for Mr. Rybachuk. A few years ago in an interview you hinted that the eventual political retirement of the three major political players—Yushchenko, Yanukovych, and Tymoshenko—might be a positive outcome. I was wondering if you still think that the whole renewal of the political game should occur now.

5:05 p.m.

Chairman, United Actions Center

Oleh Rybachuk

Out of these three, we have practically two out of the game. I mean Yushchenko and Tymoschenko. And it was mostly because they were so involved in infighting that Yanukovych became the president.

The fact is that Yanukovych was elected the president, and in two years he probably overplayed Yushchenko in the bid to lose the voters' confidence—just in two years. It means that he probably is next to go. The problem here is not with personalities. I would emphasize again that if you don't change voters' minds, if people are electing politicians, not screening them for adherence to basic or core democratic values, which we are trying to launch in this campaign, things will not change.

The key issue is the lack of accountability. We launched some projects like Vladometr, meaning “checking the power”, where we fixed all politicians' promises on the Internet. We have more than 3,000 promises from different politicians, and any time elections come, we remind them about those promises. The major focus of our movement is with people's minds. We would like to change their attitude from “I like that person or I don't like that person” towards a conscious, knowledgeable choice based on the six values criteria, which we would like to spread all over the country.

The same experience in other countries showed that in Romania, out of 225 candidates, they kicked out 96 who did not meet those criteria. This is our ambition. This can lead to changes. Otherwise, we'll get some new faces with the same problems inherited—they'll just be younger—or we'll have corruption with different faces and there won't be much difference.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Marc-André Morin NDP Laurentides—Labelle, QC

I'd just like to have your feedback on my historical perception of Ukraine. It seems to me that all the western powers have been very shortsighted and negligent toward Ukraine throughout history, going back 200 or 300 years.

I think the result was the negligence of western powers in not helping Ukraine make a transition after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. I wonder how it can be fixed. If we had done it at the time, Ukraine would be well off by now. Especially with Putin coming back, I wouldn't swap spots with your country. Your country is a beautiful country, but it's in a bad geographical position.

The Ukrainian people have suffered a lot. The same scenario has repeated itself during the Napoleonic Wars, the First World War, the Second World War, and the collapse of the U.S.S.R. It's about time the western world realized that Ukraine exists.

5:10 p.m.

Representative, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Halyna Coynash

Thank you very much. I totally agree with you.

One of the things I would say is that since about March 2010, when Yanukovych basically violated the constitution to get these turncoats to form the government, there has been a very widespread perception among Ukrainians that the west really has turned away from Ukraine and is not really very interested in supporting Ukraine.

I think it's now very important to show support, as my colleagues have been saying, at the civil society level, because there is no point trying to say that this politician is better than that politician. They're all dreadful. But civil society really does want those democratic values and could be supported a lot more.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Ouch for the politicians.

Okay. We're going to move over to Ms. Brown for the last question in the third round. That's all the time we have for that, and then we're going to finish it up. There is one more NDP and one more Conservative. We'll take the names. We'll have time for that.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Do you think Mr. Van Kesteren will have a chance to ask questions?

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Sure.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Thank you very much for being here.

Mr. Kozak, I have a couple of questions I'd like to pose to you, if I may. We have a sizeable diaspora of the Ukrainian community here in Canada. My first question, because I have no idea, is whether any of them maintain the right to vote in Ukraine in the elections. Is that allowed? We see a number of other countries that allow the diaspora to maintain a vote. Is there anything like that? Do they have any influence on this?

Do you have any comments on that?

5:10 p.m.

Chairman, External Affairs Committee, League of Ukrainian Canadians National Executive

Ihor Kozak

It's a very good question, ma'am, and there are many cases where I wish I could still vote. It's not the case. While Canada does allow for dual citizenship, Ukraine does not. Therefore, once you become a Canadian citizen, you abolish your right to vote in Ukraine.

Mind you, a significant population of people from Ukraine here in Canada haven't yet become Canadian citizens. They certainly can vote, and I believe that a lot of them do, through the consulates or through the embassy.

With respect to the influence the Ukrainian diaspora has back in Ukraine because of its engagement and support, I think it's tremendous. We've been involved, and I think I can safely speak on behalf of the entire diaspora here, at every level possible, from supporting families financially for fighting for years when Ukraine was under the Soviet regime, until this day, when a tremendous number of Ukrainian Canadians were there for the Orange Revolution to score independence. This hearing is a case in point. It was organized by the Ukrainian Canadian community.

The Ukrainian Canadian community is very much engaged. What we are trying to do is broadcast the Canadian values we have here to try to pull Ukraine closer to the west and have it become more free and more democratic. We're trying our best. It's not easy, but we are.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Secondly, I often get world news from the BBC because they have a fairly well-balanced media outlet. When I'm watching that, I regularly see the commercials that are being put on that station by Ukraine to attract western tourists to come to Ukraine.

I believe the World Cup is being held there?

5:10 p.m.

A voice

The European Cup.

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

The European Cup, yes. So there'll be a tremendous number of people travelling to Ukraine.

Is the Ukrainian government not concerned about the reputation they're developing through this and yet still looking to the west to attract that kind of tourism and that tourist dollar? They don't want it there for just a one-time event. They're looking to attract western dollars to come in.

Are they not concerned that a reputation is going to be out there and that it will deter that kind of dollar from coming in—an economic stimulus on its own?

5:15 p.m.

Representative, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Halyna Coynash

They are concerned. Unfortunately, they are concerned in a rather specific fashion.

Euronews is one channel that.... I don't know if you know it here. It's similar to BBC and Deutsche Welle. Unfortunately, it has a Ukrainian service that is actually positively distorting news, and it is doing so with the knowledge of management. I know this for a fact, because I have been writing to them, complaining, for some time. So that's one thing.

A draft law was brought in quite recently, by one of the most pro-Russian and slightly offensive Party of Regions deputies, that would actually outlaw any.... There was something about xenophobia, racism, and also political messages that would be broadcast before, during, and after football matches, which is quite clearly aimed at Euro 2012. There will be quite a lot of those sorts of....

At the moment, the bill has not passed. I don't know whether it will. If they want it to, it can pass.

Things like that are the bad side of it. I mean, I think they are trying to use their old tactics of simply buying Washington Post supplement material and other things like that. They are actually paying money to throw propaganda at the west, not change the situation.

5:15 p.m.

Chairman, United Actions Center

Oleh Rybachuk

I would just add one phrase in terms of how they explain this to President Yanukovych, who is very authoritative. No one dares, probably, to tell him something he wouldn't like to hear. Their message about Ukrainian diplomats or about the image of the country is, “You're a great guy, but the world knows little about your greatness.”

So they try to compensate for all that by showing him, personally, one viewer, these ads on TV, and they spend money on that. They spend money on lobbyists. They opened funds in Brussels...lobbyist companies in Washington, and they are purchasing huge advertisement spaces to project a pretty image of Ukraine.

In what you've been saying, you are like a naive western democrat hoping for some understanding of values, etc., and it simply doesn't work. It's a different galaxy. This is not mind-compatible culture. Don't try to impose your logic upon them. They are very different animals.

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

We're now going to start our last round.

We'll start with Mr. Larose, for five minutes.

March 5th, 2012 / 5:15 p.m.

NDP

Jean-François Larose NDP Repentigny, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to our witnesses for being here.

As someone who is well-versed in history, I have a deep respect for your country. Despite great suffering, your immense strength remains intact. If ever a country were able to improve its fate, it is indeed yours, in my view.

I would simply like a bit more insight into some of the comments that were made today. Your presentation emphasized your country's complexity. The situation is certainly very complex. There is something that concerns me with respect to Russia, in the event that you achieve your democratic aspirations of a stronger system for your country's future.

We heard about the negative side of those in power, but are there any key members of the current Ukrainian government who support change? That can be extremely useful. I wonder the same thing about Russia.

In the event that you realize your goal, are you worried that, under Mr. Putin, Russia will decide that its goal is not compatible with yours?

5:20 p.m.

Chairman, External Affairs Committee, League of Ukrainian Canadians National Executive

Ihor Kozak

Your question is topical and complex.

When we talk about Russia, I would like to make a distinction. We don't want to associate Russia as a whole with the regime in power today. In the Wednesday hearings you will hear Dr. Andrey Piontkovsky, one of the leaders of the Russian opposition, and I think he will give you a good perspective of the situation in Russia and how it pertains to Ukraine.

I would submit to you that the ordinary Russian does not have any problems with Ukrainian democratic aspirations, Ukrainian independence. Those are common and basic democratic values. The regime in power now, the regime of President Putin, views Ukraine as “near abroad”. It does not imagine its new empire without Ukraine and some other so-called near-abroad countries. But for the average Russian, there is no problem.

Should Russia become democratic—and I believe it will soon—Ukraine will have no problem co-existing with Russia. They will have a good relationship, with lots of trade. Look at Canada and the United States. At one point they were at war, but now they have a great relationship in every respect. So I believe this to be very doable.

As to your second question, about other people within Ukraine's regime who are willing to achieve some positive change, I believe there are probably some. But they're too afraid to speak up. This regime consolidated power quickly after the election, and they put their people in all the key positions. There is a strict chain of command. I believe they're just doing what they're told. They march in this corporate line, and they will not step out. There is not much democratic discussion going on within the current party, region, or the government of Ukraine.

5:20 p.m.

Chairman, United Actions Center

Oleh Rybachuk

Those people might be there, but they are at a middle or low level. The latest trend in Ukraine is to adopt the sense of “family” as it is used in Sicily. The president's family, actually one of the president's sons, is now appointing key personalities, like governor of the central bank—I come from the central bank, and I am ashamed of that—and ministers of finance, defence, and the interior. They're all family people recommended by the son of the president, who actually is a dentist by profession. One year after his father became the president, he joined the 100 richest Ukrainians, so it's quite a profitable profession in Ukraine, dentistry.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Dean Allison

Thank you very much.

We're going to move over to Mr. Van Kesteren.

5:20 p.m.

Conservative

Dave Van Kesteren Conservative Chatham-Kent—Essex, ON

Thank you, Chair, and my thanks to all of you for coming here.

As I look at the political spectrum across Russia, the former Soviet Union, and Europe, it's obvious that you have pretty much a captive audience in Europe with regard to natural gas. In the last few years, we've experienced something that I don't think the world has caught onto yet. There's a revolution taking place—it's called shale gas. There are enormous reserves in Greece and in Israel. I'm wondering how you see the shift in power and the alliances that would take place with Greece and Israel. How would you see this affecting your relationship with Europe? How will it change your alliances with Russia? I wonder if anybody wants to comment.

5:25 p.m.

Director, Institute of World Policy

Alyona Hetmanchuk

Today is a very good time to discuss the energy topic in Ukraine. This is the first time in Ukrainian history that we are not able to negotiate with Russia on gas prices. As far as I know, even people who are close to Gazprom in the Ukrainian government, like the Ukrainian energy minister, are becoming proponents of Ukrainian energy independence.

There are negotiations with the Shell company on coming to Ukraine. There are other different negotiations, so I think it is good that Ukraine and Russia can't make a deal today, paradoxically. Ukrainian authorities finally have a very strong incentive to not only make some statements but to implement a program on energy independence.